When the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds jet team and the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachuters arrive Wednesday in Atlantic City, teams of organizers and volunteers will have been working for a year to ensure that their needs are met.
Those teams, and many of the other demo teams that will perform at Friday’s 10th annual Atlantic City Airshow, each have their own support manuals that dictate every step that must be taken to ensure performances go off safely and smoothly.
The Thunderbirds’ manual is more than 100 pages; the Golden Knights’ manual is more than 30 pages. The manuals outline everything from airfield setup and safety procedures to hotel accommodations and gym availability requirements.
Charges for parking and local telephone calls must either be waived or covered by show sponsors for the Thunderbirds. They also request that a four-vehicle police escort be available that can stop traffic at intersections and lead the Thunderbirds convoy through traffic lights on the day of the show, their manual states.
The Golden Knights require 18 single hotel rooms booked for their team, and the hotel must have an internal or adjacent restaurant capable of preparing full-course meals. Fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s and Burger King don’t count, the manual states.
“It can really take a toll on you to be on the road 260 to 280 days out of the year. Then, when we get into town and in addition to the performance, we have media appearances and sometimes school and hospital visits, so we’re constantly moving,” said Darrin Grim, the show coordinator for the Golden Knights. “Some of our manual has to do with maintaining a quality of life. Other things have to do with safety, which is something we always look at first and foremost in our process.”
Joe Kelly, president of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber, said all of the arrangements outlined in the support manuals are dealt with through David Schultz Airshows, the Clearfield, Pa.-based company hired to coordinate the show.
“That’s exactly why we hire a third party,” Kelly said, speaking about the detailed procedures outlined in the support manuals. “It’s a very complex process with details that have to be followed exactly. Having an airboss is an investment that’s been worth its weight in gold.”
The chamber’s cash budget for the airshow is less than $200,000. That allows the chamber to hire airshow boss Schultz and book the acts. But much of the work that goes into the airshow is donated through in-kind services, making the total amount poured into the day closer to $1 million, Kelly said.
Schultz said most of the performance teams have support manuals. Some are longer than others, but all have similar requirements. Many of the obligations might seem mundane to the average person, but airshow producers must be completely tuned in to the manuals.
“(Spectators) just get to see the stuff during the show. This is what we deal with every day of the year,” Schultz said.
The list of details can be extensive. The Thunderbirds, which will base out of the New Jersey Air National Guard’s 177th Fighter Wing in Egg Harbor Township, have detailed instructions for minimizing damage to their F-16s. The planes are highly susceptible to foreign object damage; material as soft as cloth can damage their engines, the Thunderbirds’ manual states. Because of that, all surface areas where the planes will operate need to be swept and cleaned prior to their arrival, and they cannot be cleaned with sweepers that have steel bristles in case the bristles break off.
“There’s not a lot of margin for error in what we do. We’re trying to deliver as perfect a product as possible,” said Tech. Sgt. Jake Richmond, a spokesman for the Thunderbirds. “Anyone who’s done a job that’s kind of repetitive day to day knows that in order to be precise in what you’re doing, you tend to rely on repetition.”
The Thunderbirds also require a complete weight training and cardio training area, preferably near their hotel. The gym must be open from 8 a.m. to noon and from 6 to 9 p.m. daily to ensure that the Thunderbirds can maintain their rigorous physical conditioning schedule.
“A gym is part of our support manual because we’re on the road so long during the year and we still have to meet fitness standards,” Richmond said. “Every military base has a gym so there’s no reason not to be physically fit. We don’t have that luxury. We’re still expected to meet or exceed fitness expectations.”
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